Bruce La Rue: On the backs of the poor

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 15, 2016

A widely accepted notion within some segments of society is the oft-chanted mantra concerning the greedy upper class acquiring and maintaining great wealth off the backs of the poor. A related narrative insists that The Rich are determined to keep poor people down. The absurdity of such an assessment defies logic, and the widespread belief and acceptance shows an absence of critical thinking.

How do the wealthy make money? Most of them become rich and stay rich from the rest of us spending most of our money and investing some of it. As an example, owners of large automobile dealerships tend to be a lot wealthier than the owners of the “buy here, pay here” used car lots. The giants of the automotive industry do not benefit from the poverty of others. However, it could be argued that owners of smaller, less glamorous lots earn their money from The Poor and lower middle class.

The Rich generate more private-sector employment opportunities than do The Poor. They build large homes, providing work for carpenters, masons, plumbers, electricians, etc. Upon completion of the project, they often provide long-term employment opportunities for lawn maintenance companies, exterminators, and, of course, the charming and lovable pool man. The Poor, on the other hand, often live in subsidized housing, qualifying for various public assistance programs requiring public-sector employees to help guide them through the process. As the number of people in need grows, so does the amount of tax revenue required to meet those needs. Where does that money come from? Still think The Rich want to keep people poor?

Investment tycoon Warren Buffett is very rich. He does not make money from the backs of The Poor. The Poor do not invest in stocks, bonds, real estate, or retirement accounts. People who have a little something left after the bills are paid seek to make their money work for them. Most of us simply want to be able to live comfortably after retirement, having spent 40-plus years in the workplace paying into a government-sponsored Ponzi scheme.

One gets the impression that many of the bitter, angry, resentful people think that economic opportunity is a zero-sum situation, that there is a finite pool of wealth and for someone to gain another has to lose. Do our schools teach basic economics? If so, are the children taught something else at home? I have heard people my age, people who should know better by now, espouse the “greedy rich, backs of the poor” lament, as though all rich people are greedy and became wealthy through some means other than hard work, sacrifice, determination, and a willingness to take risks.

When bankers and corporate CEOs earn millions of dollars, it’s greed. When athletes and entertainers, even marginally talented ones, pull down $20 million or more per year, that’s market forces. When they who barely have enough money to feed their families spend some of that money on lottery tickets, hoping to win the big $400 million jackpot, are they just trying to provide a better life for their families, or is it greed? After all, nobody needs $400 million, right? Do The Rich play the lottery? Probably not in large numbers. Who plays the lottery? Could it not be argued that whoever becomes fabulously wealthy by winning the lottery does so off the backs of The Poor? Hmm.

What groups benefit from keeping poor people down? Drug dealers, attorneys, and prison employees come to mind, but some politicians and community organizers are able to maintain power and influence only if The Poor remain bitter, angry, and resentful, which is more likely if they can be convinced that The Rich want to keep them down.

It is not a function of government to “lift” people out of poverty. The role of government is to assure that all citizens have equal access to ropes and ladders with which to climb out of poverty, if they are willing and able. Our great republic has ample resources to help the truly needy. It is irresponsible to try to subsidize the truly everybody, and it is truly irrational to blame The Rich for our fortunes or lack thereof.

I would love to see everyone rise up from the ranks of The Poor; I bet The Rich would, too.

Bruce La Rue lives in Mt. Ulla.

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